Whatever will be will Brie: from Jazz Organist to cheese making Mogul
Moving from music to cheese making isn’t a conventional career change, but for Udder Delights CEO Sheree Sullivan, it was a no brainer.
“I love business and I love being in the food industry,” she said
Growing up in Elizabeth, Sheree describes her upbringing as working-class. Formally trained in the Jazz Organ from the age of five, music was her first love. But when Sheree’s family bought a 30-acre property in Lobethal, she took a step back from music and was launched into a cheese making career.
When Sheree graduated from The University of Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium in 1999, she split her time between music and building the Australia-wide cheese manufacturer Udder Delights.
“I would teach music a few days a week, perform at night, and sell the cheese every other day.”
Propelled into the production side of the business when the cheesemaker resigned suddenly, Sheree used her determination, willingness to get her hands dirty and Neil Wilman’s book “A Guide to Making Cheese“ to become a cheesemaker.
In 2004, Sheree and her husband Saul bought half of the business and took on running Udder Delights full-time. Since then, Udder Delights has grown rapidly, from processing around 1,500 litres of cheese a week to 180,000 litres.
“If at the start of the journey you told me we’d grow to the size we’re at now, it would have been too daunting.”
Sheree attributes her success to her “maths music brain, which is the creative rational” and the skills she learnt in her degree.
Nestled between plants in a cosy corner of Sheree’s living room is a well-loved piano.
“Music was a passion project for me. I love music, I still play, just not professionally.”
Passionate about creating a premium yet accessible brand, Sheree made a conscious choice to make cheese that is accessible to everyone and jokes that “you can take the girl out of Elizabeth, but you can’t take Elizabeth out of the girl.”
“I just didn't want Udder Delights to be posh for want of a better word, I didn't want it to be fancy pants. If people loved cheese, I didn't want them to feel intimidated by the product. I just want them to be able to buy it.”
Reflecting on the challenges of 2020, when bushfires spread through the Adelaide Hills and came dangerously close to Udder Delights' Lobethal factory, Sheree explained a harrowing phone call where she was told the factory was forced to evacuate and the power had to be cut.
“We ended up losing every single piece of cheese in the factory. And that had a retail value of about 1.7 million dollars,” she said.
Despite the challenges of 2020, Sheree and the Udder Delights team have some big future plans.
“We’re looking forward to relocating our cellar door and adding brewing and restauranting to the tourism side of our business,” she said.
“We’re really excited to scale up what we've been doing in Hahndorf.”
Story by Sarah Matthews.